As­tro­nauts blow up room in or­bit

7 Days in Dubai - - GLOBAL NEWS -

NASA was slowly in­flat­ing a new ex­per­i­men­tal room at the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion last night, with much bet­ter luck than the first try two days ear­lier.

As­tro­naut Jef­frey Wil­liams opened a valve and in­tro­duced 22 sec­onds’ worth of air into the com­part­ment then sev­eral more sec­onds. Mis­sion Con­trol re­ported no­tice­able growth in the struc­ture, the first of its kind in space.

The Bigelow Ex­pand­able Ac­tiv­ity Mod­ule, or BEAM, barely ex­panded dur­ing Thurs­day’s in­fla­tion at­tempt. Ex­perts be­lieve the soft­sided com­part­ment was packed up tight for so long be­fore last month’s launch that the fab­ric lay­ers had trou­ble un­fold­ing.

Bigelow Aerospace pro­vided this first in­flat­able room ever built for as­tro­nauts. NASA paid $17.8 mil­lion for the ex­per­i­ment, which could lead to an even big­ger in­flat­able room at the space sta­tion. Ho­tel en­tre­pre­neur Robert Bigelow con­sid­ers BEAM a test bed for fu­ture in­flat­able habi­tats for tourists or­bit­ing Earth as well as as­tro­nauts bound for Mars. Be­cause ex­pand­able space­craft can be com­pressed for launch, the rock­ets can carry more cargo, yet space trav­ellers can still en­joy lots of room. The stan­dard alu­minium rooms that make up the space sta­tion can never be larger than what fits into a rocket.

The space sta­tion’s six as­tro­nauts won’t en­ter BEAM for at least a week, with the hatch re­main­ing sealed. NASA wants to make cer­tain it’s air­tight be­fore let­ting any­one in­side. Even then, it will be off lim­its most of the time given its ex­per­i­men­tal sta­tus. BEAM is to stay at­tached to the lab for two years so en­gi­neers can mea­sure tem­per­a­ture, ra­di­a­tion lev­els and its re­sis­tance to space de­bris im­pacts.

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